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National Physical Therapy Month Is Here

Doctor of Physical Therapy Program
Photo by Josh Robinson: Clinical Assistant Professor Zachary Huff shows Doctor of Physical Therapy students how to check patients’ blood pressure in the new PT lab in the Dawson-Loeffler Science & Mathematics Center.

Oklahoma City University recently added its newest doctoral program for aspiring physical therapists. If you’ve never been to physical therapy (PT), chances are you don’t know why that’s a big deal! PT is one of the most in-demand medical practices, and OCU students are going to take their new top-notch educations to make their patients’ lives better.

With October being National Physical Therapy Month, OCU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program wants to help spread awareness of the importance of physical activity in our daily lives. If you see a PT student, make sure to wish them a happy PT Month!

What is Physical Therapy?

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, physical therapists treat patients’ diseases or injuries with physical methods such as stretches and exercise, massage, or heat treatment rather than with drugs or surgery. PT can be executed in a variety of ways, which is important because no two patients (humans) are alike.

Why did OCU need a PT program?

Dr. Greg Dedrick, one of the program’s six professors, said the market demand for physical therapists is rapidly increasing. A jobs report study by government regulators forecasted a 15-20% expansion by 2035. “There are not a lot of programs around us, but there is a lot of need for more health care,” he said. “The East and West Coasts are saturated, but we only have three programs in all of Oklahoma.” Although PT isn’t a new practice, OCU has positioned itself as one of the early adopters of the curriculum needed to pass state and federal standards to obtain licensure.

The new program is geared toward developing leadership skills and study in primary practice domains, inviting students to select their own areas of interest while gaining an understanding of the practice as a whole. Dr. Dedrick said the areas of interest are diverse: pediatrics, geriatrics, emergency room care, highly specific areas such as wound care, and work in primary education school systems.

Since OCU’s Board of Trustees approved the program in 2017, Director Dr. Maria Jones and her team have worked to create an inviting but rigorous curriculum to ensure graduates’ preparation for both licensure and real-world experience. Dr. Jones has more than 30 years of experience in the field as an educator, clinician, and researcher. 

Why does PT get a whole month?

Although about 42% of Americans will end up going to physical therapy at some point, most of us don’t take the preventative measures to keep us from ever needing it. In fact, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a 10-year study that found that since 2007, Americans are exercising even less despite having more sedentary careers and lifestyles. More than 80% of Americans don't move as much as their bodies need.

That’s where you come in! 

Even if you’re not in PT, thinking about a career in PT, or even feeling sick, you can help raise awareness and your own physical activity level. Physical fitness and metabolism are the most important indicators of longevity and overall wellbeing. Not only does it make your body happy, but your mind also gets to reap the benefits!

Graphics provided by the American Physical Therapy Association

How do I know if I’m active enough?

Glad you asked. The American Physical Therapy Association has an at-home self-assessment to get you thinking about your level of fitness. (No one will see your score, so make sure you’re honest with yourself.) Measure your results in one of three categories: able to do, able to do partially (but may need support or modifications), or unable to do.

Disclaimer: This assessment is not meant to replace a formal evaluation by a physical therapist. If you have an injury or condition that limits your movement or want to take your fitness to the next level, a physical therapist might be able to help. Do not do anything to worsen your condition. These exercises should not cause pain. If you experience pain, stop, and make a note of it. If you’re unable to do an exercise, take note and don’t be alarmed.

Try it!

You'll need a stopwatch or timer, smartphone or other step counter, straight-backed chair, mat or rug.

1. Flexibility | Apley’s Scratch Test Primary purpose: To check the flexibility in your shoulders.

Instructions: Start by reaching your right arm overhead and behind your neck to touch your upper back. Lift your left arm and move it around your left side to your lower back, then slowly reach upward as far as possible toward your right hand. Do they touch, or are they close to touching? Are they overlapping? Does one side feel tighter than the other? Switch sides and note your results.

2. Flexibility | Seated Sit and Reach Primary purpose: To check the flexibility of your hamstring and lower back.

Instructions: Sit on the edge of a chair, which can be placed next to a wall or sturdy surface, like a counter, for safety. Stretch out your right leg with the foot flexed. Bend your left leg with your foot flat on the floor. Placing one hand on the other, reach as far down the right leg as you can toward your toes. Keep your back straight, head up, and hold for two seconds. Switch sides and note your results.

3. Balance | Timed Single Leg Stance (30 seconds) Primary purpose: To check your balance and coordination.

Instructions: Stand upright, barefoot, with feet close together. Have a stable surface nearby, like a counter, that you can grab if you start to feel unbalanced. Cross your arms over your chest, then begin to lift one foot off the ground without touching it with your other foot or leg. Aim to hold for 30 seconds, if possible, then switch sides and note your results.

4. Lower Body Strength | Timed Sit To Stand (30 seconds)

Primary purpose: To check your lower body strength.

Instructions: Using a freestanding, straight-backed chair with no armrests, sit with knees at 90 degrees and feet parallel and hip-distance apart. Your back does not need to be completely against the back of the chair. With arms folded, stand up fully, allowing the legs to straighten without pressing the back of your legs against the chair for support. Sit back down, touching your buttocks to the chair. Repeat and do as many as you can in 30 seconds, and note your results.

6. Core strength | Timed Partial Sit Up Test (one minute) Primary purpose: To check your core strength.

Instructions: Lay down on an exercise mat, or a rug, with knees bent at 90 degrees and heels and feet flat on the floor. Your arms must be straight and parallel to the spine, and your hands must be touching the mat. Raise your head and shoulders and slide the hands forward toward the end of the mat in a partial sit-up position and hold. Record your time, with the goal of holding for one minute.

7. Cardio | 6-Minute Walk

Primary purpose: To check your cardiovascular capacity and endurance.

Instructions: Walk six minutes at a brisk pace; this may be a long time to walk for some people, so you may be exerting yourself, get out of breath, or become tired. You’re allowed to slow down, stop, or rest if necessary. If you stop, continue timing and resume walking as soon as you are able. Complete the walk either inside or outside, wherever you feel most safe. If you can’t get outside and don’t have access to a treadmill, you can modify inside by setting up a 12-meter track (approximately 39 feet), or distance that works in your setting, and count the laps and any remaining steps (or use a smartwatch or smartphone app to capture your distance). Remember, the aim is to walk as far as possible. Do not jog or run. 

Graphics provided by the American Physical Therapy Association

More info

How’d you do? If you can do all these exercises without help or debilitating pain, congratulations! You can help by telling other people about this assessment and why physical activity is important. This job is crucial because for people to know getting up and moving actually works, they’ll need to see it in action.

If you didn’t feel great about your results, you’re in the majority. Talk with your doctor about a plan to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. (If you need to start slow, it’s better than starting nowhere. Incremental changes add up.) Your doctor may recommend physical therapy. If you find yourself in need of PT after OCU’s first cohort has graduated, we’ll know who we recommend!

To learn more about physical therapy, visit OCU’s new program will be featured in the fall issue of Focus magazine.